This issue of the Exchange features Shari Bucklin-Webber, head tennis coach for both the men’s and women’s teams at Millersville University.
Q: How do you manage your time between the teams?
A: That is the biggest challenge – making sure that I equitably divide my time and energy between the two teams. They have different practice plans and schedules. They even play in different regions, but we practice together periodically to build team camaraderie.
Q: Do you remember the first time you picked up a tennis racquet? Did you catch on from the start or did it take awhile?
A: I remember taking my first lesson when I was 11 years old. I played a lot of sports growing up, but tennis was the most challenging for me.
Q: Can you tell us about your personal achievements as an athlete?
A: I started out as a gymnast, but didn’t like the striving for perfection mentality. I liked being able to make up for my mistakes, so I switched to basketball and tennis. I was the point guard on my high school basketball team, but focused solely on tennis in college. I played for Marshall University. I continue to compete because I feel it helps me be more sympathetic towards my players and I also believe I shouldn’t ask them to do something I’m not willing to do myself. I have won four United States Tennis Association National Doubles Titles and my highest national singles ranking is fourth.
Q: Has there been someone – a family member, friend or coach – who you attribute to helping with your success?
A: I learn from everyone: Family, friends, my players and even my opponents! I don’t believe in teaching “cookie cutter” tennis. I think everyone has to develop their own style of play and you will grab pieces from every avenue. I like helping players find their own game and making it fun and effective. I am very grateful that my parents gave me the opportunities to pursue whatever I wanted.
Q: How many coaching jobs have you held?
A: I coached my alma mater (Marshall University) after I graduated. I was then the assistant coach at Notre Dame and then was the head coach for the women’s team at Albright before coming to Millersville.
Q: Millersville’s tennis team has had some big successes since you became head coach. Can you tell us which achievements you’re most proud of and why you believe you’ve been so successful?
A: Personally, I am proud of the teams’ character. They always conduct themselves gracefully in victory and defeat. That is still what tennis represents to me. They always give 100 percent. I am very proud of how the teams get along and stay in touch even after graduation. Professionally, the men’s team qualifying for the NCAA tournament last year was definitely gratifying. I believe they are successful because of the camaraderie.
Q: In April 2011 you were the first woman to win the PSAC Coach of the Year title on the men’s side. What does that honor mean to you?
A: I thought it was more of a reflection of the team’s accomplishments that year, and I was very happy that the team was getting some recognition.
Q: Can you tell us something about competing in tennis at the college-level that most people don’t know?
A: I don’t think most people realize the time commitment that a student-athlete has to face. They must balance academics, athletics, fundraising and community service events, and many even have part time jobs. Most people are surprised to hear that we have a dual season, so there really isn’t much down time.
Q: Do you enjoy watching professional tennis matches? Do you have a favorite player?
A: I watch some of the majors so that I can rehash the matches with my players who watch. I prefer to watch people I know. I think money has tainted the professional tour a bit.
Q: How often are you amazed by the amount of talent you see in your players?
A: Every match seems to have at least one player who is forced to go the extra mile. They might make a comeback from a difficult deficit or have to play injured. Tennis is a little unique in that a match can last for hours. There are no subs, time outs, half time or buzzer to end the match. I am amazed by their “heart” and resiliency more than anything else.
Q: What qualities make for a great tennis player?
A: Physically, I would say footwork and hand eye coordination. You also need to have focus, determination and work ethic. Passion for the game is probably the most important, along with the desire to continually learn and improve.
Q: How would you describe your coaching technique?
A: I try to run the tennis program the way I would want it run if I was a player. Practices are a blend of conditioning, technical drills and competition simulations. I like to implement a variety of things to keep practices fresh. I strive to make them learn, sweat and laugh in every practice. I also try to get them thinking for themselves so they can enjoy playing well after college.
Q: What’s your favorite motivational quote or inspirational message?
A: My favorite saying is “Winning and being a winner aren’t always the same.” I also like “Play with hope, not with fear.”
Q: Would you agree that tennis is a game that people can play for life?
A: Yes, both my parents still play and I used to teach an 80-year-old man.
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not coaching?
A: My job is pretty physical, so I try to recharge on my down time. I will spend time with my family or hike. I also love crime shows, so if I didn’t coach and was 20 years younger, I would probably be in forensics.
Q: Have you ever played tennis on a gaming system, such as Wii? If so, how close does it come to the real thing?
A: I played Wii tennis while recovering from a surgery and some of the things were similar, but I didn’t work up a sweat!
Q: If you could travel to any destination in the world where would it be? Why?
A: I would really like to see more of the United States. I haven’t been to many of the National Parks. I would like to see Yosemite and Yellowstone. There is a published list of each state’s best hike and I would like to complete the list someday.
Q: If you could meet someone famous, who would it be?
A: Personally, I would like to meet Abraham Lincoln, if it could be anyone past or present. I would love to know how he maneuvered the country during such a trying time. Professionally, I would like to meet Coach K, Duke’s basketball coach. I would love to learn how he motivates people.
Q: What’s your favorite sports drink/flavor (Gatorade, Powerade, Propel, etc.)?
A: Gatorade has saved me a couple of times (the low calorie one)!
Q: What dreams do you have for the future?
A: I hope that my kids (my players included) are successful, healthy and happy!